Southampton 2 - 0 Everton
Three games ago, having put Arsenal to the sword and then engineered a deserved but somewhat fortuitous win at Sunderland to extend their winning streak to seven matches, the prospect of another five consecutive Everton victories, however unlikely in the cold light of day, seemed so possible. Even if they didn't win them all, with only five defeats all season and just one at home, defeat in any of those final five games seemed unthinkable. The Blues were in a groove.
The crushing disappointment against Crystal Palace 10 days ago served as a firm reality check to that growing hubris but, with the stirring win over Manchester United last Sunday keeping Everton within a point of Arsenal, breathing down their necks just daring them to slip up, it was all back "on" again; that coveted top-four finish, improbable when Roberto Martinez arrived last summer, was still in sight.
Raised hopes were slapped down again today, though, most likely for good now for this season as a pair of first half own goals left the Blues staring at a mountain of their own making without much idea how to conquer it. Perhaps it was psychological, maybe physical – probably a combination of both with the added toll of a mounting catalogue of injuries – but Martinez's side just could not rediscover the spirit and swashbuckling attitude that has made them one of the most exciting and dangerous teams in the Premier League this season.
As starts to a must-win game go, conceding an own goal after 53 seconds is about as bad as it gets; scoring a second when your Champions League dreams are on the line is unthinkable. Yet Everton still had an hour remaining of the contest to salvage something, to make a fist of it and mount a memorable comeback but they managed just one effort of note on Artur Boruc's goal. And that told its own story.
Of course, more so perhaps than the other fixtures in the run-in, this trip to the south coast had always stuck out as a potential stumbling block because of the strength of Mauricio Pocchettino's team. Any hope that their minds had already drifted towards the summer or, in the case of the likes of Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw, were focused on self-preservation ahead of the World Cup, were largely dispelled by a lively and energetic opening by the Saints that yielded that very early goal.
A loose Ross Barkley pass from the kick off, aimed for Seamus Coleman but which was intercepted by Ricky Lambert, handed possession to the home side and with two quick passes through Lallana and Jack Cork they found Lambert in space down their left channel. John Stones, playing in a makeshift central defensive partnership with Antolin Alcaraz, allowed the striker a little too much space to flight a ball aimed at Sam Gallagher towards the six-yard box and the Paraguayan, stretching to reach it, headed straight past Tim Howard and into his own net. It's possible Gallagher would have headed it past Howard who was rooted to his line anyway but we'll never know.
It was a disastrous opening but need not have been catastrophic and the Blues responded with some pressure on the Saints goal. Coleman found Romelu Lukaku with a low cross from the right in the fourth minute but as the Belgian met it on the run, he could only sky it over the crossbar. And a couple of typically impotent corners came to nothing before Gerard Deulofeu bounced a tame short goalwards that Boruc safely gathered.
With Kevin Mirallas out injured, it was the Spaniard who was charged with providing the threat and trickery in a front three rounded out by Steven Naismith but, deployed on the left flank instead of his more familiar role on the right, he struggled to make any impact in the first half. Almost nothing he tried came off and in one instance he killed a fast-moving attack dead by holding the ball up in order to try his step-over routine and the move broke down.
Whether Martinez's decision to deploy Deulofeu on the left was an uncharacteristic one based on an opposition strength in the form of Luke Shaw or simply to accommodate Lukaku playing more on the right as he did against Arsenal was unclear but he looked a little lost on that side of the field. That was more or less underlined when he briefly switched flanks late in the first half and went past Shaw in trademark fashion before flinging in a cross that Lukaku couldn't get sufficiently above and his header flew over. It was a rare moment of success for the Spanish forward but, surprisingly, he quickly returned to the opposite flank.
In between, it had been Southampton who generally looked the more dangerous side going forward and Steven Davis went very close when he side-footed Lambert's set-up inches wide of Howard's left-hand post.
With half an hour on the clock, the Blues' afternoon went from bad to worse and, again, it was a self-inflicted wound, albeit another unfortunate one. Nathaniel Clyne was afforded the room to whip in a cross from the right which neither Alcaraz nor Stones got a head to as Coleman clearly expected one of them would so when the ball arrived at the Irishman at the back post he sent an instinctive cushioned header back towards goal. Unfortunately, it was nowhere near Howard who was, again, helpeless as he watched the ball nestle in his net.
You sensed that Everton badly needed a goal before the break and though it didn't arrive before half time, when Barkley, who had largely been anonymous, was withdrawn in favour of Leon Osman, they looked to have carved out a terrific scoring chance within two minutes of the start of the second half. Infuriatingly, Deulofeu was wrongly flagged offside while latching on to Naismith's pass and the Blues were denied the opportunity to quickly halve the deficit.
As if that wasn't bad enough, when Osman was scythed down by Dejan Lovren inside the Saints area just past the hour mark, not only was no penalty given – it was one of those incidents near the byline where the referees bottle it and explain it away with the rationale that the ball was going out of play – but the Everton midfielder was booked for simulation.
When taken in concert with blatant shirt tugging by Jack Cork on Garry Barry at a free kick in the first half that went either unnoticed or unchecked by the officials, the Deulofeu offside incident and a later tussle between Lovren and James McCarthy where the defender visibly pulled the Irish international to the ground and you had a handful of potentially game-changing decisions all go against Everton. Prior to today, the Blues hadn't lost a game officiated by Michael Oliver and they might not want to see his boyish mug again any time soon after this performance.
Though Southampton never really eased up, their two-goal cushion meant that they weren't exactly causing Howard much grief in their final third either, although Lambert did drive a direct free kick off the outside of the post and James Ward-Prowse later forced a two-handed parry from the American in injury time.
The period in between was merely more of Everton struggling to make attacking headway and they had little to show for it beyond the best chance of the half that Lukaku planted straight into the goalkeeper's arms from substitute Aiden McGeady's cross from close range. Either side of the keeper...
It capped another worryingly ineffective display from the 20-year-old striker who looked anything but the £25m-rated striker on whose shoulders rest so many of Belgium's World Cup hopes, but he wasn't alone. There was a collective flatness to almost the entire side and a noticeable gap between the midfield and the attack when the team went forward. Rather than come forward as a wave to flood the Southampton back line, Everton seemed to lose their way once they got near the opposition area where they found the Saints in uncompromising mood.
Had Martinez elected to hook one of his holding midfielders at 2-0 down and re-shuffled things to bring Barkley more into the game, it might have injected some energy into proceedings but, ultimately, it was a curiously lifeless display from a team with so much to play for. There appears to have been a steady dropping off the intricate, possession-based football espoused by the manager, and which has characterised so much of the campaign, in favour of a more direct approach in recent weeks; absent that attacking verve today, there was little swagger and incisiveness to their play.
The litany of injuries that has robbed Martinez of Arouna Koné, Darron Gibson, Steven Pienaar, Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin, Lacina Traoré and Kevin Mirallas hasn't helped either and it's left him with few match-winning options from the bench these days.
The light may not be out on Everton's hopes of finishing in the top four but it is now flickering ominously, waiting perhaps to be all but extinguished by Arsenal on Monday evening when, surely, they will beat a Newcastle United team on a run of embarrassingly bad form. The task must now be to claim the point that would guarantee Europa League football next season and, hopefully, edge out Tottenham to finish fifth. With a record points haul and so much learned from Martinez's first season in charge, that would still represent a fantastic season for Everton, with bright hope for a more sustained top-four push next term.
Reader Comments (37)
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1 Posted 27/04/2014 at 07:51:58
2 Posted 27/04/2014 at 07:31:56
Your morning after reports are usually delivered with such accuracy and fairness, I’m guessing you probably give yourself a cooling of period to digest and relect on the game before you start typing.
My Sunday morning ritual now goes ; coffee, toast, LL’s report . . But all season long I have found myself disagreeing with you as to what constitutes a good season.
Yes we have an impressive points haul, but look at the bottom half of the table? There are still nine clubs struggling to get to the magical 40. This Newcastle side could have been relegated in the past, yet they’ve been safe since before Chrimbo. Spurs and United have been woeful. . Have points ever been easier to come by in the EPL?
Yes some of our football has been fantastic, but some of it has been very poor too, desperately so.
Sorry, but I don’t see how finishing fifth can be considered a fantastic season, especially when we were 4th with a handfull of games to go.
Unless the gunners want to give us another bite at the
cherry, we’ve surely got to accept that we have squandered a wonderful opportunity ?
3 Posted 27/04/2014 at 08:48:05
To settle for the well we did well under the circumstances approach takes us back to the Moyes / Kenwright glass ceiling etc.
Fourth spot was a real opportunity in this league and we have blown it
I hope Roberto is putting boys pen Bill under pressure to back the team for next season. Sadly I suspect we back to Groundhog Day next August<. I hope I am wrong
4 Posted 27/04/2014 at 08:43:00
Im sure that before the season started others like myself would have been happy with a finish of somewhere around 6th or 8th with the team showing signs of progressing under the new managers aims and philosophy.
I agree with your comments that on the whole this season standards have dropped on the whole and like you say most of the season as many as half the teams have been fighting relegation.
However, our new manager has seen to it that despite the major changes introduced we have not regressed in any way and has managed to not to just keep hanging on to the coat tails of the 6 so called Big Clubs but actually challenging for a Champions League place.
That though now unlikely, it is still mathematically possible as is the chance we may finish 7th. If we do end up finishing 6th or 7th I will be as disappointed as any give the last few weeks, however that doesnt stop me recognising the magnificent job done by Roberto and the team overall and as far as I am concerned given the circumstances before the season began this has been a very good season for us.
6 Posted 27/04/2014 at 10:06:48
Yesterday was a bad day at the office but it did nothing to shake the view held by many that when it comes to the crunch that the team don’t deliver.
Expect at least 3 points out of the last two games which bring our total up to 72 and fifth place. Then Mr Kenwright and the rest of the Board its over to you!
7 Posted 27/04/2014 at 09:57:22
However, the most interesting point for me over recent weeks has been the sense of fear at the possibility of getting fourth. I have felt this from the fans even before some games and have sensed it from the players but not the Manager.
This is our, Fans and Players, major issue during the summer. In the pub before the Place game many, in fact most, fans were seriously worried. Someone said to me "they’ve won 3 on the run". When I said we’d won 7 they looked at me strangely. Didn’t feel or hear anything so negative before the Arsenal game or the ManU game. Yet again the negativity on Saturday was obvious and clear.
I have suggested that we have over the past 11 years been brainwashed to accepting our underdog and "nearly team" tags and should be grateful, almost humble, to even finish in the top 10.
I cannot stand that Uriah Heepish concept.We have to break out of that mindset. Its like The Mancurian Candidate - - we get near 4th or winning a trophy and we panic.
I wonder if at Palace especially that fear was felt by the players.
I feel the same about Liverpool The City sometimes - - "the greatest city in d weerld" and yet when we gained Capital of Culture status we just bought in. We didn’t trust ourselves. Same with the "Giants" crap. Anyone explain the link with giant puppets and WW1.
So Martinez has to buy some players in the summer but he also, in my opinion, has to do a mind job on any of the old guard.
I simply cannot explain such a drop in form from last week to yesterday. Not just one or two players but people like Baines and Coleman and Mc Carthy and Barry. I normally do not call players names and will not here but Lukaku hasn’t kicked a ball in any positive way in any game since Arsenal.
Still, though, got my 2014/15 Season Ticket and will spend the summer meditating and developing my already very posso waves.
Up The Blues.
8 Posted 27/04/2014 at 10:24:14
Several suggestions have been made that we should cash in on the youngster to secure the Belgian’s permanent signature. No, no, no, I say.
Anything more than a £15M punt on Romelo will be just that and if Ross is to be sacrificed in the cause of providing a transfer kitty, the money needs to be spent more wisely than that.
Personally, I’d prefer Roberto to ’come up trumps’ with another goalscorer altogether, and see ’our kid’ deployed just behind him.
Somehow I suspect I’m whistling in the wind !
9 Posted 27/04/2014 at 10:48:58
We have been much better than spurs and united but unfortunately not so as to the four above us. Irrespective, the last couple of seasons have proven decent opportunities to break the 4 with the usual suspects arguably being at their weekest for many a year but who’s to say the opportunity won’t arise again next season such is the modern unpredictability of the Premier League!?
Maintain the core, strengthen well, phase transition and there is every chance we could have more realistic crack at it next season! Money will of course be the argument but with a bit to spend and really only being 3 to 4 top players off of a very very good side then that is our advantage over the others already there so to speak. We punch strongest at the same weight, that is our forte.
On a player note, we need to steer well clear of Lukaku! His demeanour and attitude stinks of player just in it for himself. You know he’s sat at home this morning, instead of gutted at yesterday’s loss like the rest of us taking a look at europe weighing up who’s qualifying for the champions league for next season!
Yes the lad is still young, and is arguably a raw talent but he’s just not what we need right now. Give me Remy or Hernandez any day over him and if I see any more bleeding glove pointing I may lose the plot! Are the Belgium national side going to wear gloves at the world cup!? It does make me laugh, and just how I’d like to see Lukaku....pointless!
10 Posted 27/04/2014 at 10:48:17
So ’Onwards and Upwards’ it can only get better next season.
11 Posted 27/04/2014 at 10:58:35
12 Posted 27/04/2014 at 11:18:33
Think a plus point we have over Spurs is we have got a far superior goal difference.
13 Posted 27/04/2014 at 11:24:09
Most would agree pretty is better !
14 Posted 27/04/2014 at 11:28:21
15 Posted 27/04/2014 at 11:23:08
16 Posted 27/04/2014 at 11:39:45
17 Posted 27/04/2014 at 11:36:44
The one question I would ask fellow posters is why do you think that early season Barkley,Lukaku and Deulofeu were at their very best, yet in the latter stages all three seem to have gone backwards. I suppose it could be that all 3 are playing what is in effect their first full season in the Premiership, and maybe being young it takes its toll. I think Stones on the other hand has just got better and better as the season progressed, so much so that he must have a realistic chance of going to Brazil. Maybe the fact that he has the experience of playing regularly in the Championship for Barnsley is why he has coped better than the other 3.
18 Posted 27/04/2014 at 12:17:48
Maybe it’s the invisible hand of God telling us we are still not ready for Champion’s league.
Remember what happened to us when we last qualified for Champion’s league?
We were nearly relegated.
Thank God for Phil Neville who kicked a few asses and drove us all the way to tenth.
19 Posted 27/04/2014 at 12:15:24
It’s not always about how much you spend e.g. QPR but what you spend it on.
22 Posted 27/04/2014 at 12:25:02
Seriously if I had been told we would finish 5th last August I would have looked forward to the season. The reality is we always want more and yesterday is hard to take for many reasons.
We started badly and that set the tone, we seemed scared to attack as we were so vulnerable at the back. Lulu couldn’t trap a bag of cement, Barkley looked lost and the rest seemed to wander aimlessly.
Need 3 points to secure 5th now, 6 points would be good and pray the Arse slip up (lots).
For me beating Chelski, Manure, Arse at home are good memories but I am still left with ’what If’s’ despite our highest PL points tally.
Hope Kone proves me totally wrong and scores for fun when he returns and Barkley is given a compass very soon.
23 Posted 27/04/2014 at 12:40:37
The game was really frustrating as Deulofeu was taken off just as he seemed to be understanding passing might help. Our midfield were too far back so spent a large chunk punting the ball up to Naismith. While it worked against Arsenal, Lukaku is most definitely not a winger. I would rather have seen him spearheading attack, with Naismith behind and Osman on the right - who would have supplied the same little cover for Coleman. All we seemed to do was switch wings a number of times.
Some really poor performances including Baines and the manager himself.
24 Posted 27/04/2014 at 13:00:08
It may or may not have resulted in a goal and a different result which Everton barely deserved but it would have been nice to have the chance at least.
I’m really sick of people defending incompetent officials. Dowd has just given one of the strangest decisions I think I have ever seen but the Sky team says he was correct and so I bow to their superior knowledge.
25 Posted 27/04/2014 at 12:47:18
Yes you could say its all but more or less ended with a tinge of disappointment, but to be in that position in the first place is progress. Also a lot of posts bemoaning the fact of our players not having the composure, balls, belief etc to jump the final hurdle. Yet the same posters not believing we can now finish higher than 7th. Even though we have won 8 of our last 10.
The football gods have been good to us on a whole in the past 12 months, so let’s not give up on Newcastle tomorrow just yet!
26 Posted 27/04/2014 at 13:20:52
Later in the game the Southampton wing man skipped over the legs of Coleman I think, and was able to play on. Osman on memory kicked the ball out of play before taking the hit.
27 Posted 27/04/2014 at 13:41:45
28 Posted 27/04/2014 at 14:39:22
In the race for 4th against Palace and Southampton, we had some lads saying we couldn’t handle the pressure, we froze, and we bottled it.
In the games against Arsenal (who we twatted) and the Manc’s (we won at a canter), we were still fighting for 4th, but never bottled it in those games... so what’s the difference between the games against Arsenal and the Manc’s, and Palace and Southampton that has fans saying we bottled it?
29 Posted 27/04/2014 at 14:39:46
What happened after the two goals was worse for me. There was a complete flatness and lack of energy throughout the team. Everyone was looking for a leader out there, no-one wanted to be that leader.
As I said during the previous regime, I don’t regard a trophyless season finishing 5th/6th/7th as ’successful.’ For me, finishing top 6 is satisfactory. I’m pleased we’re passing the ball more, even more pleased that we’ve started to do it more quickly of late.
I’m not pleased with our woeful corners at either end, our inability to cope with going a goal down and Martinez’s idea of spending the first 10 mins settling into the game. Stuff that, I’d rather take a leaf out of Liverpool’s book and steam into the opposition from the off, particularly as we need to get in front to control a game.
The main thing for me is that we’re playing with method, which will make it easier to improve and integrate new players/youngsters into the team.
This summer will be interesting. He’s had a year, he knows the strengths of the existing players, he (presumably) knows his budget and hopefully knows what we need. One thing’s for sure, we won’t be underestimated this time, so I can’t see any loans from PL clubs. I’d like a keeper, commanding, footballing centre-back, hard bastard/leader/playmaker in midfield and at least one good striker. By good I mean interested in every game, can control a ball, never stops trying, rarely stops scoring.
Over to you Messrs Martinez and Kenwright!
30 Posted 27/04/2014 at 16:45:43
Lets get ready for Citeh, with the possibility of Darren Gibson on the bench!
31 Posted 27/04/2014 at 17:32:05
32 Posted 27/04/2014 at 18:34:35
33 Posted 27/04/2014 at 19:21:12
34 Posted 27/04/2014 at 22:06:26
RM's stewardship has brought hope for next season even as hopes for UCL is fizzling out. I've spoken out against the rapid increase in expectations before that Mike (@10) mentioned and I think we're at the point of reassessing that expectation. I hope many do realize that other than RM, not much else changed. Yes, we got a few players to fit his philosophy, yes, the style changed, but our income flow has not varied significantly. Unless BK changes his tune about investing money in the squad among other things (like something as simple as just trying to get a better deal than Chang), RM is still a bit hamstrung. However, that does not change the positive outlook I have that we will achieve greatness under RM's stewardship. Of course, fingers crossed that RM doesn't lose our defensive identity for the sake of a pure possession-attacking philosophy. COYB!
35 Posted 27/04/2014 at 22:25:26
As a blue supporter for 30 years or so, I feel we have far more to be upbeat about:
1) RM will attract better players who will want to play possession style;
2) Europa League is perfect for RM and the team to gain European experience;
3) It's been a great first year for RM;
4) Highest PL points tally;
5) No top team hang-ups, beating Man Utd, Chelsea & Arsenal.
Oh – and RS may have blown the title!
So come on, guys – let's be positive and look forward to a positive future.
36 Posted 27/04/2014 at 23:21:56
Chelsea parked the bus and relied on counter attacks.
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